With all due respect to Tolstoy, no family is alike, happy or unhappy, and this has never been truer than in the 21st century. Blood might be thicker than water, but that doesn't stop some of us from creating our own families from friends and lovers or otherwise remixing our family trees. These three Tribeca Film Festival movies beautifully, and sometimes sadly, show the ins and outs of families from disparate walks of life and parts of the world.
Lucy Malloy's Una Noche is a kinetic drama about three teens in Havana, where the temptation of a new life beckons from Miami. Lila (Anailin de la Rua de la Torre) is a watchful teen, precocious and teased by the other girls for her hairy forearms and similar topics typical of girlhood hazing. Although Lila has heard plenty of stories about people leaving Cuba for Florida, she never dreamed that her beloved twin brother Elio (Javier Nuñez Florian) might try to leave, especially not without her. When his friend Raul (Dariel Arrechaga) gets in trouble with the police, what was once a pipe dream becomes a very real plan. When Lila finds out, it's only a matter of time before she decides to try and join them. They all have people they must leave behind, especially Raul, whose mother is dying of AIDs, but not much else that could entice them to stay.
Malloy and her untrained stars build a portrait of Havana that is visually exciting and memorable, although a few narrative flourishes deflate some of Una Noche's power. Shots of Elio and his friends riding their bikes through Havana, their neighbor who forlornly sings in the street, and the jarring poverty butted up against the wealth of the tourists stay with you after the movie is over.
In a particularly strange twist, Anailin de la Rua de la Torre and Javier Nuñez Florian have not been seen since they deplaned in Miami on their way to NYC for the premiere. Arrechada and Malloy have given statements to the press hoping that their friends are well and will be in touch to let them know they are safe.
Lynn Shelton's latest intimate indie Your Sister's Sister has been on my mind since I saw it before Sundance. Mark Duplass inhabits the scruffy, borderline alcoholic character Jack with ease; he's royally screwing up his life and lashing out at everyone around him since his brother's death, but he's got a touch of the charming mess about him. Iris, played by Emily Blunt with a wonderful openness and humor, shoos him off to chill out at her family's home on a nearby island. When he arrives, a slightly older and quite comely woman is already there; Iris's older sister Hannah (Rosemary DeWitt) is seeking a similar retreat after breaking up with her longtime girlfriend. They get drunk -- really drunk, drunk enough for supremely awkward and unsatisfying sex -- and wake up the next day hoping to forget it ever happened. Iris's arrival makes that impossible, and the cabin in the woods becomes a sort of crucible where the three of them and their love for each other are boiled down to their essences and held up to the light to be fully examined. What they find is a frankly heartening configuration that has little regard for traditional social boundaries.
I enjoyed Shelton's previous film Humpday and its characters' awkward sexual and emotional exploration, but Your Sister's Sister offers an even richer experience. Either Shelton's directorial chops have grown stronger or making this movie more fully about three people has freed her to make better use of the camera; while Humpday heavily relied on tightly framed shots of one or two actors at a time, the camera work in Your Sister's Sister is more varied. Humpday's female costar Alycia Delmore definitely took a backseat to Mark Duplass and Josh Leonard's bromance, while Blunt, DeWitt, and Duplass share camera time more equally, in various combinations and locations. The sisterly chemistry between Blunt and DeWitt is a natural delight, especially when DeWitt improvs a particularly humiliating anecdote about Iris at the dinner table. (Read my interview with Lynn Shelton about Your Sister's Sister here.)
We last spent 2 Days with Julie Delpy with her ex-boyfriend Adam Goldberg in Paris, but this time around we're in New York with Chris Rock as her significant other. Mingus (Rock) and Marion (Delpy) are having a fine time as live-in lovers. They have a sweet apartment, cool arty jobs, and their kids from previous marriages -- Willow and Lulu, respectively -- are adorable and share bunk beds when they're not at their other parents'. (Attentive viewers will note that Lulu's dad is referred to as Jack, who was played by Adam Goldberg in 2 Days in Paris.) As we saw in 2 Days in Paris, Marion's family is fairly overwhelming; Delpy's real father Albert plays her mischievous and funny onscreen dad Jeannot, and Alexia Landeau revisits her role as Marion's sexy sister Rose as well. As in 2 Days in Paris, Marion's past love life comes to haunt her, this time in the form of a skeezy dude named Manu (Alex Nahon) who accompanies Rose; Manu proudly tells Mingus that he gave her her first orgasm -- "both of them!" Meaning, I suppose, both of the sisters.
Marion flits between outbursts and crises as she plans a big art gallery show while juggling her unmanageable family and Mingus's growing impatience, but something mentioned in passing, a sort of performance piece where she will sell her soul to the highest bigger as part of her show and also to prove she doesn't believe in the soul, is actually the meat of the matter. Marion's mother Marie has died since 2 Days in Paris, and so Marion's auction is more than simply performative; it's grieving, plain and simple. The dedication at the end of the movie, "To Marie," says it all. The woman who played Marion's mother in Paris isn't in New York because Delpy's mother Marie Pillet died in 2009. This presents a sort of catch-22. Making her mother and the loss thereof a more overt presence throughout the film would have changed the tone too much, but only grasping the film as a tender memorial after the fact takes away some of its power. There is also a bit too much fluff in the middle, like Rock's monologues with the cutout of President Obama. Delpy is, as always, a magnetic presence in front of the camera, and a talented writer and filmmaker. Plus, any film that has a shot of a bird crapping on Vincent Gallo can't be all bad.